The World as Form and Function

Reality is created by observers in the universe  – John Archibald Wheeler, Theoretical Physicist (1911-2008)

Today I am revisiting the views held by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Idea (1818), and his rejection of naïve realism, or what has been called scientific materialism, that the things we observe in the world are what they appear to be, absolutely, and forever, and not in anyway a function of human perception and experience in the sense that they can be modified based on our understanding of things.

This view would suggest a possible distinction between how things are independently from human observation versus how they are perceived by us once they have been observed and their information has been processed by our perceptual and conceptual processes.

Now while there may be a logical gap between the world and the world observed, it could be argued that it is in fact a useless  distinction,  given that we have no other means of accessing it in an ontological sense.  And so the question remains: is it in fact a meaningful exercise to even refer to it as a matter of some significance? To all intents and purposes, if we never refer to it again, what would be lost in our discussions about the nature of the world?

To deal with this alleged problem, Kant introduced the “thing-in-itself”, or “ding ansich” in German – to suggest that the true nature of  the world is fundamentally unknowable as we can only grasp the nature of things indirectly through perceiving them as objects in relation to ourselves – how we have experienced them.  I respectfully suggest that Mr. Kant is out to lunch here, in the sense that is is contradictory to say that something is fundamentally unknowable as to make such an assertion implies some knowledge about  it. In other words, the distinction serves no useful purpose.

Moving on,  it is one thing to experience the world through one’s senses – it is another thing to experience it logically, e.g., to experience such things as cause and effect, time, space and the various ways in which objects relate to us and each other. If these relationships are permanent features of the physical universe, it wouldn’t matter in what form you encountered them in your experiences, your conclusions about them would be same. But in the end, it would be less important what the world looks like versus what can be abstracted from it simply from interacting with it. And this would lead me to say that the nature of the world is about function (a method that relates an objective to its instantiation) –  and not form (the manifestation of matter and energy), the latter being  incidental to the process, and a means to an end in terms of being the medium that allows the function to be enabled or expressed.

This is an important view for me and consistent with my argument that we should perhaps be less preoccupied with determining the origin, age and size and makeup of the material  universe, by poking into the furthest and oldest region of the universe, looking for clues of sorts and so on  – and, instead, look more closely at what the logical or functional nature of the various cosmic events appear to be about,  such as the manifestation of a directional and seemingly intrinsic teleological process leading to ever higher degrees of material complexity and organization – evolution – and where this particular process would seem to want to take us to.  As such, the cosmos appears to be a  work in progress, and that is at least some concrete information we have about the nature of the world as we have encountered it.


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